Urbin Report

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Robert A. Heinlein's Legacy

Taylor Dinerman has a good tribute:

When one looks at the great technological revolutions that have shaped our lives over the past 50 years, more often than not one finds that the men and women behind them were avid consumers of what used to be considered no more than adolescent trash. As Arthur C. Clarke put it: "Almost every good scientist I know has read science fiction." And the greatest writer who produced them was Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Butler, Mo., 100 years ago this month.
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In 1958, in response to what he saw as a liberal effort to weaken America's military, he set aside the "Sex and God" book on which he had been working and wrote "Starship Troopers." This was probably his most controversial book. In it he imagines a future society in which the right to vote must be earned by volunteering for service, including service in the military. In response to claims that the book glorifies the military, he wrote: "It does indeed. Specifically, the P.B.I., the Poor Bloody Infantry, the mudfoot who puts his frail body between his loved home and the war's desolation--but is rarely appreciated."
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Heinlein's political beliefs were moving more and more toward the libertarian side of the spectrum. He supported Barry Goldwater in 1964, and in 1966 he published what many considered his greatest book, "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," the tale of how penal colonists and their descendants on the Moon successfully revolt against their Earthly masters. The core of this book, which keeps it near the top of the libertarians' reading lists, is the speech by an old professor, Bernardo de la Paz, to the rebels' constitutional convention: ". . . like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master. You now have your freedom--if you can keep it. But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly to yourselves than to any other tyrant."

The professor explains: "The power to tax, once conceded, has no limits; it contains until it destroys. I was not joking when I told them to dig into their own pouches. It may not be possible to do away with government--sometimes I think that it is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small and starved and inoffensive--and can you think of a better way than by requiring the governors themselves to pay the costs of their antisocial hobby." As they say on the Moon, "TANSTAAFL!": "There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!"
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In the '70s, in a speech to the midshipmen at the Naval Academy, he said he thought that "patriotism has lost its grip on a large percentage of our population. . . . But there is no way to force patriotism on anyone. Passing a law will not create it, nor can we buy it by appropriating so many billions of dollars."